The good way to play with your rabbit? Down on his or her level. iStock.com/thefurnaceroom
When you brought your furry bunny home for the first time, you no doubt dreamed of enjoying playtime together. That’s a good thing! Rabbits don’t merely sit in a corner and munch on hay all day. They want to have fun, and playtime with you not only gives them fun and exercise and strengthens the bond between you, it also stimulates them mentally. But what sorts of games do you play with rabbits? You can’t exactly get into a hopping contest with them.
Ground Rules For Playtime With Your Rabbit
Although bunnies do best in pairs and play with each other or amuse themselves, playtime with you is important. If you have more than one bunny, consider their personalities to figure out if you can play games together or if you need to have one-on-one time with each.
1. Know Your Bun: Before the fun begins, spend some time observing your little friend. What is his or her personality like? Does he startle easily? Is she a morning rabbit or a late-night rabbit? Is exploring his thing, or is tossing items about more his style? Does she seek out petting and cuddles, or are these actions simply tolerated? Knowing your pet pal’s likes and dislikes helps you choose activities the two of you can enjoy together. Rabbits communicate through vocalizations and body language. Watch for any signs that your rabbit is scared or uncomfortable with a game. If you see these, don’t play that game.
2. Think Like A Rabbit: This might sound a bit crazy, but looking at the world from your bunny’s point of view gives you insight into how your companion might like, or dislike, a game. Rabbits are prey animals, so they have the instinct to flee, freeze, or fight when faced with a perceived threat. Rabbits usually are not fond of loud noises, sudden movements by others or even being picked up. Getting startled is no fun for rabbits. This pretty much rules out surprise or chase games.
3. Consider Rabbit Anatomy: Rabbits have delicate bones and skin, so any roughhousing is a no-no.
4. Announce Playtime: Whenever it’s playtime, always say the same phrase to signal to your rabbit that the fun is about to begin. “Hey, Thumper, let’s play,” “Thumper, are you ready to have some fun?” or whatever phrase you wish that includes your bun’s name. Be consistent using the phrase so that your rabbit learns that when you say it, a game is about to begin. When playtime ends, have another phrase that you say to signal this. Even if your rabbit is the one to end the game, say the phrase. Having playtimes at roughly the same times every day is helpful, but not imperative.
5. Play On The Ground: Get down on your rabbit’s level to play any games. Being on the ground eliminates any risk of falling. It’s also rabbit territory, which can help your buddy feel more secure.
6. Choose The Play Area Wisely: Opt for a floor area with plenty of room for the chosen game or games. Clutter, the presence of other animals or being in a walkway might prove hazardous.
7. Keep It Brief: Depending on the game, play sessions should probably only last 10 to 20 minutes. Rabbits need to be free to take drink or snack breaks, and their nap schedule can be demanding. Take your cue from your pal. If he or she loses interest or hops away, don’t force the game.
8. Be Open To Invitations: Your rabbit might decide that it’s time to play. If a toy gets tossed at you, a ball is rolled your way or you get “the nudge,” join in when you can. Your buddy wants your attention.
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Giving your rabbit free-roam time in rabbit-safe areas promotes bonding and gameplay. dkmears/pixabay.com
Once you know the ground rules, the games you play with your rabbit are only limited by your imagination. Note that training, whether to perform tricks or run an agility course, is more formal than playtime, so it’s not part of this article.
If any game seems to frighten your rabbit or make your pal nervous, try a different game. Feel free to use tiny treats to entice your bun to stay put or do something. Use only rabbit-safe treats and only in small amounts so your friend doesn’t fill up on treats instead of healthy hay. Hey!Berries are a great option, as this treat easily breaks up and includes healthy hay. Some bunnies take to some games but not others. Pay attention to how your rabbit reacts. He or she might even show you a game to play!
Start with simple games. One of these is the ball roll. Sit on the floor a few feet from your rabbit and roll a ball slowly back and forth between your hands. The idea is to show your rabbit that the ball rolls back and forth. When your rabbit is looking at you, try rolling the ball slowly toward your pet. This might make your rabbit move away or the ball might be ignored. If your rabbit moves but does not seem afraid, stop for that day but keep trying once or twice a day for the next several days. The goal is to either have your rabbit stay put and ignore the ball, or else actually push the ball back to you. If your rabbit stays put but ignores the ball, bend forward to reach the ball and give it a push back toward you. Give your rabbit several weeks to catch on. You can even try setting up a row of balls in front of your rabbit to see what he or she does with them.
Another simple game is the toy toss. Place several rabbit-safe, lightweight, small, sturdy toys around your rabbit. If your buddy is the type who likes to toss things, this game is made for him. If he begins tossing toys, get them and place them back at his feet. It’s like fetch, with you being the fetcher.
Might your rabbit enjoy a ride? We’re not talking piggy-back here. If you have a blanket, you can give a willing rabbit a ride. First, show your rabbit the plan. Get a stuffed animal or any small object and place it on a blanket on the floor. Do this in front of your rabbit, then grab the opposite end of the blanket and slowly drag it across the floor. Demonstrate the concept several times for your rabbit, then place a treat on the blanket. Let your rabbit hop on and eat the treat, then say, “Here we go” or some warning phrase and slowly move the blanket. Your rabbit might hop off right away, which is fine. Try this several more times for several days and judge whether your rabbit is having fun or maybe just thinks you’re silly.
Did you ever play the hot and cold game? Someone hides something when you’re out of the room, then calls you back in and you have to find the item, with them directing you by saying you’re getting warmer or hotter when you head in the right direction or are near it, or saying you’re cool or cold if you head in the wrong direction or away from it. Try the same thing with your rabbit using a treat. Hide the treat when your rabbit is out of the room. When your rabbit comes back, tell him you’re playing hot and cold. Then give verbal clues as your rabbit moves around. Make your tone excited for getting closer to the treat and bored for farther away. Some bunnies will take to this game, and some won’t.
If your rabbit comes when called, then hide-and-seek is another game to try. You hide and then call out to your rabbit. It’s then up to your pet to find you. Consider giving a small treat when that furry face appears at your side. The challenge here might be finding new places to hide. Hiding under a blanket in different locations adds options.
If your rabbit enjoys more action, try making a dig box for your pal. This can be done inside or outside, and it’s likely to be messy. If you use clean potting soil for the dig area, then outside is better. Any outdoor play should be in a secure, bunny-safe area and always be there to supervise. For indoors, try using clean rabbit bedding in a large, short-sided container. Buy a bag just for play and reuse it several times. The bigger the container the better, but it should be at least three or four times the length of your rabbit when he lies down and the digging material should be at least 4 inches deep. See how your rabbit reacts when placed in the dig box. Put a treat on top, and on following sessions, bury a treat or two before letting your rabbit in the box. If your rabbit doesn’t catch on, show him that a treat is buried.
Toy chase is a game that might interest some rabbits. Put a string on a toy and walk by your rabbit, dragging the toy slowly. A treat on top might encourage your rabbit to “chase” the toy. Some rabbits might enjoy batting at a toy you dangle in front of them, rather than chasing after something.
One game that has a serious side is the once-over. If your rabbit sits still for petting, this is one to try. When petting your rabbit, feel through the fur to check for any lumps, discharge, matting, or abnormalities. Say the name of each body part as you check it.
Anything can be turned into a game. Whatever you try, just keep safety in mind and pay attention to how your rabbit reacts. Have fun!